If I had a penny for every time a man said to me “You’re an F1 fan? Name every driver on the grid and their team principals”, I could buy a ticket to attend the 3-day weekend at Silverstone next year, or to watch Messi score a hat-trick against Manchester City in the upcoming Champions League fixture.
Football has always meant a great deal to me. An escape from reality, a safe space for when I’m feeling low. Ninety minutes of nothing but pure joy, heartbreak, and nerves. It was perhaps during Pep Guardiola’s tenure as manager at FC Barcelona when they dominated European football that I fell in love with the sport. I must have been twelve years old. Since then, I have owned almost every season’s jersey, and I always wore them with pride. A symbol of my loyalty. As a young child still hopeful about the world, you never expect your love for anything to be questioned, but it happens. Again, and again, and again, until it breaks you enough that it stops fazing you. You bury it deep down, you sweep it under the carpet, and then it crops up a few years later, leaving you foaming at the mouth.
As a woman, I have unfortunately got used to having my interests questioned, berated, and my love for the things I enjoy belittled. My interests have always been categorised as “boyish”, an outdated and pedantic term I loathe. Most major sporting events are dominated by men. This applies to both football and Formula 1, two sports that I can’t live without. If you spot me around Cardiff, I will probably be wearing my Aston Martin hoodie or sporting a Messi jersey. And yet, someone will still think it’s okay to give me a pop quiz to prove that I am a “real fan.”
I live in private halls where they have an Xbox plugged into a screen in the lobby, free to use for all residents. Groups of men are usually huddled around the television screen every evening, playing FIFA or Call of Duty. I do not care about the latter, but when it comes to FIFA, I consider myself a decent player – only because I played nothing but that during the yearlong lockdown. One fine evening, I saw two men going head-to-head, PSG versus Barcelona, two teams I support. I decided to watch, stood at the side. It was a thrilling game, and I thought they would appreciate a compliment about their gameplay. I said, with a smile, “What a cross into the box, and the finishing was perfect.” They both turned to look at me, smiled sheepishly, and then started whispering amongst themselves. I am Indian and so were they, but thinking that I could not understand Hindi, one of them said to the other, “Yeh ladkiyaan apne aap ko pata nahin football experts samajhti hain.” (These girls really think they are football experts.) They sniggered. It hurt. But I wasn’t going to idly stand by. I retorted in Hindi, told them that I could list PSG’s current line-up without batting an eye and take them to the cleaners at a game of FIFA. I also pointed to the team crest on my jersey, which was clearly visible. Whilst it hurt at first, I left satisfied because neither of them knew where to look or what to say. But I am tired of always defending my interests. This happens all the time and not just to me.
There exists a plethora of Formula 1 fan accounts run by women who share screenshots of men considering their F1 knowledge as being far superior to theirs. All women want is to be treated and rewarded as equal to our male peers. We talk about progress and the great strides we have made towards it. So then why is it that the world is still plagued by individuals who won’t let us indulge in sports, music, Marvel movies and comics without presenting us with a pop quiz first? There are enough problems in the world already: too much grief, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, and hurt. Why can’t I just do what men do and turn on the telly and flick to a game? Why can’t I, a woman, go to a pub to watch my favourite football club play without feeling out of place?
I am exhausted. I know you are too, and I see you. I have tried time and again to laugh any sexist comments off, but it isn’t always easy. Someone will get under your skin. Someone will make you want to punch them in the face. Someone will have you raging inside, triggering all the hurt that you’ve bundled deep down. Own that anger, let it fuel you. Buy that football jersey you’ve saved in your shopping cart for the past two weeks because someone told you it wasn’t right for you. Display your national team’s flag outside your window. Turn that rage into passion for your club, your favourite cricket team, your Sebastian Vettels and Lionel Messis. You don’t even have to know any of the semantics when it comes to sports and the arts. There is no prerequisite to love any of it. Love for the sake of it.
We are not female sports fans; we are just sports fans.
Image courtesy of Siân Hopkins.